"The Book of Eli ripped off my film", says Aussie director
“We want acknowledgement that there are similarities and that our film Freedom Deep may have been the source material. We’re not out to get money as such,” Stevenson told Encore.
The Book of Eli was written by Gary Whitta, directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, and produced by Alcon Entertainment and Silver Pictures. It was distributed by Warner Bros. in the US – where it has earned U$94.4m – and will be released by Sony Pictures Australia this week.
Sony Pictures declined Encore‘s request for comment.
The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic story about a man (Denzel Washington) travelling across the United States, with a ‘calling’ to protect a book that many would kill to have, and deliver it to an unknown destination in the west.
Stevenson claims The Book of Eli is “virtually identical” to his film Freedom Deep.
“It’s not just the premise of the prophet getting the book back to the remnants of civilisation; that plot point is the same, but there are lots of visual references as well,” said Stevenson. “The last 10 minutes make it a little different, but up to that point, it’s pretty much the same.”
Freedom Deep was shot in 1995 and picked up by US-based distributor 1st Miracle Pictures in 1997, for a U$4,000 advance, with a percentage of profits to follow. According to Stevenson, from 1998 “all communication attempts with 1st Miracle Pictures were met with silence” and he was unaware of the film’s release plans, although he started receiving correspondence from fans who had seen the film on US and European TV and DVD.
Stevenson sought legal advice and was told to wait for the rights to return to Fatal Impact Productions when the five-year contract expired. He shot additional scenes to incorporate references to 9/11 and ultimately released a Final Director’s Version.
According to Stevenson, he first heard about the Eli project when it was in development, but did not contact the production. He still has not contacted anyone involved in the making of The Book of Eli at an official level.
“We’re independent and we don’t have the money to go to the US and start a legal case. It’s a David and Goliath story and we need the publicity first. We’re looking at the possibility at the moment,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson believes that “the Hughes Brothers and Warner Bros. were probably unaware that The Book of Eli was a reinterpretation of Freedom Deep”, and it was the writer Gary Whitta who “found[Freedom Deep] in bargain bins for $5, picked it up and wrote his own”.
“The best outcome for us is to get more exposure for our movie. If we then get lawyers and there’s a legal case and they want to take it further, then that’s fine too,” said Stevenson.
This is the Australian trailer for The Book of Eli:
And the trailer for Freedom Deep: